Monday, August 20, 2012

Cars That Should 

Never Have Been Made 

2nd Edition

1956-75 Tatra 603

A Series of Unfortunate 


First things first. The only reason the Czech-made Tatra 603 is under the Cars That Should Never Have Been Made category is that this company was prevented from offering this car to the general public.

The Tatra 603 was a truly wonderful vehicle, with a design so odd that it's strangly appealing. 

And it was the car of choice for high-ranking Politburo members.

And as for Jim Carrey from Lemony Snicket pictured above? 

Well, I sorta discovered the weird and wonderful Tatra 603 from that movie back in 2004. It's the car Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) drives when he takes the children away. 

Sometimes, you see a vehicle in a film and think to yourself, "That can't be real. Nobody ever made a car that cool."

Well, yes they did. The Tatra in the film is bone stock...although I have no idea what model car was used for Count Olaf's character.

A little bit of history....

1900 Rennzweier

Tatra of the Czech Republic actually has a very rich history as the planet's third oldest car manufacturer - behind Daimler and Peugeot. 

1924 T-11

In the 30s, they became the premier builders of luxury cars in Central Europe. 

1936 T87
Their first world-beater was the '31 T77, the earliest aerodynamic car. 

This was followed by the awesome 1936 T87, a rear-engined V-8 monster. Both of these cars directly influenced Hitler and Porsche to build the Beetle. 

1949 T600

In fact, Volkswagen paid a settlement to Tatra in 1961 for stealing the design. The T600 (yep, like the early Terminator) was introduced in 1946, right before the Communist Party took power in Russia. 

The T600 Tatraplan (I think the 'plan' part is Russian for aerodynamic or flying) was produced until 1952....and here is where things get weird.

The Soviet Union was, of course, in turmoil at this time. The Cold War and the Space Race were just heating up and nobody knew what the fuck was going on.

Communist labor party officials ordered the T600 production moved to the Skoda plant, leaving Tatra 'free' to concentrate their efforts on buses, trucks and locomotives. Yes, comrade. Right away.

Four years later, the politburo changed their mind.

Early T603

Tatra started work on the T603, a refinement of everything they'd learned over the past 30 years. The T603 featured an air-cooled 3.5 liter V-8, full independent suspension, was rear-wheel drive and had a rather decent curb weight of 3,100 lbs.

An air-cooled V-8? I know what you're thinking, but the Tatra motor was extremely reliable, was used in many light military trucks - and weighed in at a mere 350 lbs.

That's rather remarkable, when you stop and think about.

The early version is easily distinguishable by the three headlights under the glass on the nose. In 1962, this was upgraded to four headlamps, and the dashboard and engine were updated, as well.

The big V-8 was still at the back, like a Porsche, but nobody really cared. The T603 was tough, had a great ride and was well-built...unlike other Soviet, err...anything actually.

Over the years, the 603 was up-rated with disk brakes and innovations like pointless ignition. But it remained a USSR workhorse - although plenty were rallied successfully.

On an interesting note, the T603 - during the production run - were treated very much like certain American military aircraft. 

Used 603's were brought back to the Tatra plant, completely refurbished...then sent back out 'as new'. For this reason there are no accurate production figures.

The 603 was what the big-wigs in Russia, China and Cuba received as a reward for their service. Lesser officials got crappy Ladas and Volgas. Sucks for them.

The car was replaced in service by the 613 in the mid-70s, and collectors started scooping them up. 

After I became aware of the 603 from Lemony Snicket, I became friends with a Tatra 603 owner that had driven his across America. 

His biggest issue during the trip? His Tatra ate tires for some reason, probably a bearing issue. 

Sucker never left him stranded, though.

Joy Osmanski chimes in....

As my readers know, Joy Osmanski - an Academy-Award winning actress, former NASA engineer and current CEO of Isuzu - evaluates and rates our cars here...offering her unbiased and intelligent opinions.

Joy had this to say about the Tatra T603: "Bleck."

Once again...thank you, Joy, for your unwavering contribution to journalism.


E. Brown said...

I loved Mr. Poe's car mostly for its unique design!

Count Olaf's car was a 1960 Chrysler Imperial Ghia Limousine. Only a handful were made.
Count Olaf's car has a solid cap on the back, which was rare unless custom made. Most of the Chrysler Limousines had a window extending from the back door.

S. Daniel Shortwinter said...

Thank you for the update!